Myanmar's military junta seeks ban on VPNs and digital currency

People would no longer be able to rely on VPNs for their preferred communication tool, Facebook


Myanmar's military junta has floated a cyber security law that would ban the use of virtual private networks, under penalty of imprisonment and/or fines, leaving digital rights organisations concerned about the effects of further closing the country off digitally to the outside world.

The draft bill, dated January 13 is signed by Soe Thein, permanent secretary of the military's transport and communications ministry and is undergoing request for comments until January 28. Upon adoption, it will subject VPN users to between one and three years inside, and fines of up to five million Myanmar Kyats ($2,800).

The bill also bans the use of digital currency, under penalty of imprisonment for six months to a year, and the same fine used to deter VPN use.

Furthermore, it obligates service providers to provide the personal information of users – like name, address and access history – to authorities if requested. Similar stipulations have caused telcos to leave the region in the past. Norwegian mobile carrier Telenor left in September 2021 when the ruling junta wanted to intercept calls carried on its network.

For many in Myanmar, Facebook is synonymous with the internet. As the country faced a military coup in February 2021, the newly installed Tatmadaw banned Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, prompting users in the country to rely on VPNs to retain access to their preferred online communication services.

Around the same time as the prohibition on social media, a proposed VPN ban hit strong objections from both tech and commerce advocate organisations, thus allowing the country's internet users to continue to communicate without changing platforms.

BBC Myanmar reported that the January 13 bill and its 115 clauses is stronger than the Junta's efforts in 2021.

VPNs have long been a restricted technology in China, which also seeks to limit the material its citizens can access.

Digital and human rights advocates fear a VPN ban will damage pro-democracy organisations, like the National Unity Government, and benefit the military junta.

"The proposed bill is draconian, even by the standards of the Burmese military. The first version of the bill proposed in February 2021 was dropped after industry and civil society united to push back, but the military has been set on getting its way," Alp Toker, director of NetBlocks, told The Register.

NetBlocks describes itself as "a global internet monitor working at the intersection of digital rights, cybersecurity and internet governance."

Toker said VPN services were "requisite to connect with the outside world from Myanmar since the coup, due to restrictions on social media and international platforms imposed by the post-coup authority," as well as "essential for business and international trade, particularly in the digital services sector."

"These are certain to have a chilling effect on political speech and human rights, but ultimately this is only going to turn public sentiment further against military rule," added Toker. ®


Other stories you might like

  • Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon's lava tubes
    How? Founder tells The Register 'Robots… lots of robots'

    Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

    Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world's data.

    "It's inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we're setting off bombs and burning things," Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. "We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe."

    Continue reading
  • Conti: Russian-backed rulers of Costa Rican hacktocracy?
    Also, Chinese IT admin jailed for deleting database, and the NSA promises no more backdoors

    In brief The notorious Russian-aligned Conti ransomware gang has upped the ante in its attack against Costa Rica, threatening to overthrow the government if it doesn't pay a $20 million ransom. 

    Costa Rican president Rodrigo Chaves said that the country is effectively at war with the gang, who in April infiltrated the government's computer systems, gaining a foothold in 27 agencies at various government levels. The US State Department has offered a $15 million reward leading to the capture of Conti's leaders, who it said have made more than $150 million from 1,000+ victims.

    Conti claimed this week that it has insiders in the Costa Rican government, the AP reported, warning that "We are determined to overthrow the government by means of a cyber attack, we have already shown you all the strength and power, you have introduced an emergency." 

    Continue reading
  • China-linked Twisted Panda caught spying on Russian defense R&D
    Because Beijing isn't above covert ops to accomplish its five-year goals

    Chinese cyberspies targeted two Russian defense institutes and possibly another research facility in Belarus, according to Check Point Research.

    The new campaign, dubbed Twisted Panda, is part of a larger, state-sponsored espionage operation that has been ongoing for several months, if not nearly a year, according to the security shop.

    In a technical analysis, the researchers detail the various malicious stages and payloads of the campaign that used sanctions-related phishing emails to attack Russian entities, which are part of the state-owned defense conglomerate Rostec Corporation.

    Continue reading
  • FTC signals crackdown on ed-tech harvesting kid's data
    Trade watchdog, and President, reminds that COPPA can ban ya

    The US Federal Trade Commission on Thursday said it intends to take action against educational technology companies that unlawfully collect data from children using online educational services.

    In a policy statement, the agency said, "Children should not have to needlessly hand over their data and forfeit their privacy in order to do their schoolwork or participate in remote learning, especially given the wide and increasing adoption of ed tech tools."

    The agency says it will scrutinize educational service providers to ensure that they are meeting their legal obligations under COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

    Continue reading
  • Mysterious firm seeks to buy majority stake in Arm China
    Chinese joint venture's ousted CEO tries to hang on - who will get control?

    The saga surrounding Arm's joint venture in China just took another intriguing turn: a mysterious firm named Lotcap Group claims it has signed a letter of intent to buy a 51 percent stake in Arm China from existing investors in the country.

    In a Chinese-language press release posted Wednesday, Lotcap said it has formed a subsidiary, Lotcap Fund, to buy a majority stake in the joint venture. However, reporting by one newspaper suggested that the investment firm still needs the approval of one significant investor to gain 51 percent control of Arm China.

    The development comes a couple of weeks after Arm China said that its former CEO, Allen Wu, was refusing once again to step down from his position, despite the company's board voting in late April to replace Wu with two co-chief executives. SoftBank Group, which owns 49 percent of the Chinese venture, has been trying to unentangle Arm China from Wu as the Japanese tech investment giant plans for an initial public offering of the British parent company.

    Continue reading
  • SmartNICs power the cloud, are enterprise datacenters next?
    High pricing, lack of software make smartNICs a tough sell, despite offload potential

    SmartNICs have the potential to accelerate enterprise workloads, but don't expect to see them bring hyperscale-class efficiency to most datacenters anytime soon, ZK Research's Zeus Kerravala told The Register.

    SmartNICs are widely deployed in cloud and hyperscale datacenters as a means to offload input/output (I/O) intensive network, security, and storage operations from the CPU, freeing it up to run revenue generating tenant workloads. Some more advanced chips even offload the hypervisor to further separate the infrastructure management layer from the rest of the server.

    Despite relative success in the cloud and a flurry of innovation from the still-limited vendor SmartNIC ecosystem, including Mellanox (Nvidia), Intel, Marvell, and Xilinx (AMD), Kerravala argues that the use cases for enterprise datacenters are unlikely to resemble those of the major hyperscalers, at least in the near term.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022